What’s Really Behind America’s Gun Deaths?

Following the most lethal mass shooting in US history, it’s once again time to take a serious look at the cause. By all accounts, the Las Vegas shooter was not a terrorist – at least not in the traditional sense. He was no Osama bin Laden. He was not a member of ISIS. Moreover, he had no criminal record. He had no history of mental illness. And he had no history of domestic abuse.

What he did have was a penchant for collecting a large number of military-style weapons and an enormous amount of ammunition. The shooter was one of a tiny minority of Americans with such stockpiles. According to a study by Northeastern University and Harvard University reported by the Guardian, 130 million of America’s guns are in the hands of just 3 percent of American adults. That means each of these Americans, mostly men, own an average of 19 guns!

For what purpose? Why do these people feel the need to own such an arsenal?

Certainly, a small percentage of these people are collectors of war memorabilia and antique weaponry. But what about the others? What drives them? 19 guns are 18 more than necessary for self-protection. 19 guns are at least a dozen more than necessary for the most avid hunter of game large or small. And 19 is many times the number of guns needed for target shooting.

So how do we explain the rest?

I believe these owners are driven by a combination of anti-government paranoia and a fascination with all things military. In other words, we have a number of apparent Seal team wannabes who have become convinced – likely by the NRA and right-wing conspiracy theorists – that the government is coming for their weapons; people who fear that the US will be taken over by the United Nations; who believe that immigrants – especially those of color – are coming for their jobs and wealth.

These are also men who were militarized from an early age; from the endless displays of military might; from the military flyovers before football games and other large events. Maybe they are motivated by the plethora of TV shows, movies and video games based on the military. If so, they aren’t be alone. Far too many Americans can only define patriotism in military terms.

Have you ever asked yourself why? Is there really no other way to share our love of country than to display weapons of war? To superficially thank veterans for their service? To adorn our homes with flags?

More to the point, why are military-style weapons in high demand when they are of little use for hunting or self-defense? Who but an assassin needs a .50 caliber sniper rifle? Who but a mass shooter or a criminal needs a device to make a semi-automatic weapon mimic the rate of fire of fully-automatic military assault rifles? Who but a law enforcement officer or a bodyguard would feel the need to carry a concealed gun? And what civilian other than a bully or someone with a very small penis would want to strap a gun over his shoulder or onto his hip to intimidate those around him?

Why do so many of our citizens think education and health care are too expensive for our government to afford, yet think nothing of spending many times more money on new military weapons systems? Have we become so affected by right-wing propaganda that we think the military is the answer to every conflict? Horrifyingly, a large percentage of our population – mostly Republicans – now believe a military takeover of our government could be a good thing in certain circumstances.

Can you imagine the reaction of our founders if they were alive to see that?

Admittedly, there are far more questions than answers; questions that everyone should be asking of themselves and those around them.

If we are to ever end the outrageous number of gun deaths in the US, we need to regulate the number of guns and limit their firepower. But that alone won’t end the shootings. We need to transform our collective psyche from one that celebrates violence and war to one that celebrates life and accomplishments. That doesn’t require our nation to weaken our military. It simply means that we put violence in perspective as a last resort…a necessary evil that is only rarely necessary for survival. Not as something to be used whenever it serves our purposes; to bully others into deferring to our wishes.

The reality is that guns aren’t the cause of our mass shootings. They’re the means. They’re also a symptom of a much larger problem.

Now Is Exactly The Time To Talk About Guns.

Each time there’s another mass shooting event, the GOP is quick to say, “Now is not the time to talk about politics.” In other words, “Let’s address the symptoms, but not the cause.” That happened after Columbine, after Sandy Hook, after Charleston, after Orlando…after every single mass shooting.

The motive, of course, is to delay discussion until memories of the event become faded – only to be replaced with the trauma of the next shooting.

It is precisely the result of this strategy that more than 15,000 people died in 2016 as the result of gun violence; a figure that does not even include suicides. And that’s why 2016 saw more than one mass shooting per day (a mass shooting defined as events during which at least 4 people are injured or killed).*

Republicans must not be allowed to get away with it this time!

And it’s not just the inaction of Republicans that has allowed the gun violence to continue. It’s also their collusion with the gun lobby which has resulted in easy access to weapons of ever-increasing lethality. Thanks to the GOP and the NRA, people have been allowed to purchase weapons of war. They have made it legal for virtually anyone to carry a semi-automatic handgun without obtaining a license. They have made it legal to purchase .50 caliber sniper rifles that can blast a hole through a vehicle’s engine block at a distance of hundreds of yards.

The GOP made it illegal for the Centers for Disease Control to track gun deaths. The GOP made it illegal for physicians to discuss gun safety with parents. And the GOP made it illegal for the gun registry to create an electronic database for guns. That means the registry will have to sort through hundreds of thousands of paper documents to track the sale of the guns used by the Vegas shooter.

More recently, Trump repealed a rule designed to prevent certain mentally ill from buying guns. After all, who would want to deny the mentally ill their 2nd Amendment rights?

Even as the shooting in Las Vegas was unfolding, the GOP Congress was preparing to vote on a bill that would legalize the sale of silencers and armor-piercing ammunition! For what purpose?

Imagine if the shooter holed up in the Mandalay Bay Hotel had access to silencers. Instead of taking 15 minutes to locate and disrupt the shooter, it may have taken 2-3 times as long. How many more people would he have been able to kill in that time? How many of the SWAT team would have died as the result of the ammo penetrating their body armor?

The GOP and its NRA sponsors must not be allowed to ignore the impact of their actions any longer. They must not be allowed to continue to place profits above lives. It’s long past time for common sense gun legislation for universal background checks; to implement a one-week waiting period for all gun purchases; to create an electronic gun registry; to ban large capacity magazines; to limit the quantity and type of ammunition; to ban the open carry of guns.

This mass shooting is the fault of the shooter, the NRA and the GOP. If we do nothing, the next mass shooting will be our fault.

*Statistics from the Gun Violence Archive

Thoughts And Prayers Will Not Stop Shootings.

After Columbine, there were thoughts and prayers. There were more thoughts and prayers after Aurora, Sandy Hook, Charleston, San Bernardino, Orlando and, now, Dallas. After Eric Garner, after Michael Brown, after Timor Rice, after Ezell Ford, after John Crawford III, after Jonathon Ferrell, after Alton Sterling, after Philando Castile, and after the deaths of 5 Dallas police officers, there were more thoughts and prayers. Yet the shootings continue.

Obviously, thoughts and prayers alone aren’t working. They may make us feel better. But they do nothing to stop the shootings. And because the shootings continue to divide us, there will be many more thoughts and prayers.

What we need, instead, are common sense laws to improve gun safety. Ideally, that would mean banning military-style semi-automatic weapons and semi-automatic handguns. Unfortunately, that genie is out of the bottle. Even if we banned the sale of them tomorrow, there would still be millions in circulation. But what we can do is to repeal all open carry laws. Even in the Old West, open carry was banned in towns…in “polite society.” We can do that again.

We can pass laws for universal background checks on ALL gun sales to close the so-called “gun show loophole.” We can ban the sale of guns to those on the no-fly list until they can prove that they are not dangerous. We can ban the sale of guns to those who have been convicted of domestic assault or are under restraining orders. We can ban the sale of guns to those who have been convicted of any violent crimes. We can require gun safety training to those who have conceal and carry permits. And we can take the words of the Dallas Police Chief to heart and discourage people from carrying guns in public places.

We can, once again, ban silencers and large caliber sniper rifles…rifles so powerful that they can blow a sizeable hole in an engine block. We can ban large capacity magazines, except at gun ranges.

We can reinstate funding for the Center for Disease Control to study gun violence. And we can reinstate funding for services to help the mentally ill – one of the three largest groups of victims of gun violence.

We can increase budgets for police departments that will allow more training in the de-escalation of violent situations. We can make certain that our police know how to safely disarm those who are armed with weapons other than guns, such as clubs and knives. We can assess police officer candidates for personality traits so that we hire the best possible candidates and eliminate those who are racist or trigger happy. And since, we will demand more of the police, we can pay them appropriately.

There are many things we can do to help police and limit the number of senseless shootings. But, if we rely on thoughts and prayers alone, they are certain to continue.

Mass Shootings Now Define Our Civilization.

Since the tragedy at Columbine, I have written blog posts calling for common sense gun safety. I have written and called my congressional representatives asking for universal background checks. I have taught self-defense classes debunking the notion that guns are a defensive weapon. I have demonstrated that carrying a gun does not protect you against an armed assailant who has the advantage of surprise. I have explained that being in a crowd of armed people makes you less safe. I have passed along academic studies that show that more guns equal more gun violence. I have tried to debunk the notion that an assault weapon is good for anything other than killing people. And millions of like-minded people have spoken out against gun violence.

None of it has worked.

Since Columbine, we have seen an average of more than one mass shooting (defined as incidents in which at least 4 people are killed or wounded) per day in the US. We’ve seen more than 100,000 shootings in our nation each year. We have seen lunatics with legal access to guns kill men and women. We’ve seen them murder theater-goers, church-goers and party-goers. We’ve seen them target black people, brown people, white people and gay people. We’ve seen them shoot doctors, nurses, lawyers, judges, teachers, government workers and a congresswoman. We’ve even seen them murder school children!

Over all that time, I’ve seen people use the 2nd Amendment to defend the rights of any individual to gain access to weapons of war. I’ve seen the NRA bribe legislators and congressional representatives to create even greater access to such weapons. I’ve heard political leaders foment hate, then call for national prayer when people act on that hate. I’ve heard so-called religious leaders (and I use the term loosely) claim that mass shootings are God’s vengeance for abortions, for accepting gays, for legalizing gay marriage, for allowing transgender people to use the bathroom. I’ve heard friends and relatives claim that mass shootings are merely the price we pay for freedom.

For whatever reason, we’ve been convinced to view gun violence as a matter of politics; as a matter of religion or policy. It is not. In fact, it’s the very essence of who we are as individuals. It defines our society.

If you think discrimination against others for any reason is acceptable, you cannot call yourself religious. If your pastor damns any group of people – whether they are people who look different, pray differently, love differently or have different beliefs – you do not belong to a church. You belong to a cult of hate. If you support politicians who privately accept money from the NRA to vote against gun safety bills then publically pray for the victims of gun violence, you are an accessory to murder. If you think someone who performs a legal medical procedure should be stopped at any cost, you do not understand what it means to be an American, because you neither believe in democracy nor in the rule of law. If you think those who speak in favor of discrimination and hate speak for you. If you are someone I know who actually believes any of these things; if you prefer to embrace hate rather than kindness, I cannot call you a friend.

I’m not even certain that I can call you human.

What’s A Black Man’s Life Worth?

In recent weeks we have seen a number of unarmed black men and children killed by police. We have seen video of a non-violent black man being choked to death in Staten Island for failure to pay cigarette taxes. We have heard testimony of a black teenager in Ferguson gunned down by 12 shots even though many eyewitnesses testified that he had raised his hands in a sign of surrender. We have seen a young father shot to death in a WalMart for carrying a pellet gun he intended to purchase. We have seen a 12-year-old murdered by two cops for playing with a toy gun. We have seen a mentally-ill black man armed with a small knife gunned down by two cops who opened fire within seconds of arriving on the scene. (A small knife is no threat to two police officers in a squad car who are wearing Kevlar vests and armed with Tasers, pepper spray, batons and guns.)

We have seen reports of police shooting unarmed black men and children in Arizona, California, Missouri, New York and Ohio.

These are not isolated incidents. They represent even more than a pattern. They represent an epidemic…a failure of law enforcement training and tactics, and a breakdown in the relationships of people of color with law enforcement. At best, it indicates a sense of fear and mistrust of any male of color. At worst, it indicates deep-seated racism within police departments combined with a shoot-first mentality intended to prevent any testimony that would conflict with police reports. (Dead men tell no tales.)

Likely, both are at least partially true.

In fairness, the proliferation and ever-increasing lethality of guns in our country has made the job of law enforcement more difficult. This causes police to draw their guns instead of relying upon less lethal options. But that is no excuse. Law enforcement has long assumed that citizens are armed. That fact hasn’t changed, but the reaction of officers has.

Before Darrell Wilson, the officer who shot Michael Brown, was hired by the Ferguson Police Department, he had been trained in a nearby city by a police department so inherently racist that it was disbanded by the city. Other officers involved in the shootings have been found to have posted blatantly racist comments on the Internet. Some police departments have been tied to the Ku Klux Klan and other racist organizations.

Given the distrust of police by minorities and the attitudes of some police officers, the unnecessary shootings are going to be difficult to stop. Body cameras may help restrain some behaviors and build trust, but they alone are not the answer. Videos of police violence taken by independent witnesses have resulted in few convictions. Grand juries are too likely to believe that there is more to the incident than meets the eye. They are too likely to prioritize police testimony over that of eyewitnesses. They are too likely to excuse police abuse because they understand that police work is dangerous. (It’s actually less dangerous than working as a logger, miner, fisherman, farmer, or laboratory worker. Police work is the 9th most dangerous profession in the US.) Moreover, the public is likely to excuse police excesses because they are frightened as a result of political fear-mongering. They expect the police to protect them from the bad guys and, if the police make some mistakes in doing so, they believe that’s better than the alternative.

The truth is that police seldom protect anyone. They usually arrive on the scene after the crime has already been committed. They are no longer the deterrent they once were. I believe they can only regain their effectiveness if they, once again, become a real part of the community; if they get to know the citizens they have been hired to serve; if they become a less threatening presence that encourages cooperation within the community to help prevent crimes and build trust. The police need to reflect the communities they are sworn to serve and protect. They need to rethink their training and apprehension techniques. They need to lose the military attitudes and equipment and focus on non-lethal controlling techniques.

They need to be reminded that guns are the weapon of last resort. Not a weapon of convenience.

Another School Shooting…Yawn.

The recent Oregon school shooting was the 74th shooting on or near school property since the slaughter of six and seven-year-olds at Sandy Hook Elementary. Several other school attacks have been discovered before the individuals could carry out their plans. Nevertheless, these shootings are happening at a rate of more than one a week. And when you consider that most schools are not in session for 3 months of the year, the frequency is greater than that. And if you consider gun violence outside of schools, things are much worse. More than 3,000 children die from gun violence every year. In fact, a child or teen is a victim of gun violence every 30 minutes.

But it seems that few care. Accepting gun violence is just part of living in America…the land of free and the home of the guns.

Since the wacko Second Amendment absolutists staged a coup which transformed the Nitwit…er…National Rifle Association from a benign club devoted to hunting and marksmanship into a mouthpiece for gun manufacturers, the NRA has not only succeeded in making more guns available. It has made more lethal guns available. It has helped market guns to children as young as five-years-old. It has fomented fear that the government is coming for your guns. It has pushed laws making it legal to carry guns in every state. And it has lobbied conservative Republicans and cowardly Democrats to block any legislation aimed at sensible gun control.

As a result, you can now see dimwitted bullies openly carrying guns in restaurants, convenience stores, shopping malls, sports stadiums and bars. And those are just the guns that are visible. There are many more concealed in waistbands, pockets, boots, purses and cars. For what purpose? Apparently it makes the mentally weak feel more powerful. It seems that guns are like sports cars…the speed of the car and firepower of the gun are in inverse relationship with the size of the penis.

Contrary to NRA beliefs, the presence of guns is not a deterrent to violence. In fact, easy access to guns is more likely to escalate confrontations. And guns are definitely more likely to end them. To see how useful guns are for self-defense, you need look no farther than the recent Las Vegas shooting in which a good guy with a gun was shot and killed because he was unprepapared to deal with a violent and fluid situation. (A gun does you no good if you don’t see the person who is about to shoot you.) For further evidence, consider the death of a priest in Phoenix, Arizona. He was shot and killed by a burglar using a gun owned by a fellow priest!

Two-thirds of homicides in the US are committed with guns…11,078 in 2010. More than half of all suicides are committed with guns…19,392 in 2010. More than 10,000 children are killed or injured by guns each year. Indeed, a five-year-old Kentucky boy just shot and killed his two-year-old sister with a child-sized, but no less deadly, Crickett rifle given him by his parents.

Had enough?

Apparently not, because unless the shooting incidents result in dozens of deaths, the media offers little coverage, few people take notice and even fewer demand solutions from their congressional representatives. It seems that most Republicans and many Democrats are more concerned about potential attacks from al-Qaeda and ISIS than from domestic terrorists. Yet as many children are killed in the US by guns each year than there were victims of 9/11. And our Congress does nothing to stop it. Yes, our 2nd Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms in order to maintain a well-regulated militia. But guns in the hands of five-year-olds, the mentally ill and anti-government “patriots?” What about the preamble to our Constitution which promises to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty…?” Does the right to threaten and shoot outweigh our rights to tranquility and general welfare? I submit that the reverse is true.

You know the problems of gun violence. You know the solutions. You simply need to care enough to speak up. Until you do, the NRA will continue to control our laws, and the shootings will continue to happen.

What Good Are Smart Guns With So Many Dumb Gun Owners?

The National Rifle Association is apoplectic over attempts to market so-called smart guns by one of their own. They have threatened violence against the guns’ inventor and every retailer who has attempted to sell them. And they have shouted down those who support the guns by calling them just another attempt by the left to “take away their guns.”

Ordinarily, the fact that the NRA opposes something would automatically make me support it. But, on this issue, I have mixed emotions. On one hand, smart guns that can only be used by their owners wearing a watch-like device would likely prevent the deaths of children who innocently believe guns are playthings. On the other hand, the sale of these guns may give us a false sense of security. Don’t forget. Most of the guns would still be in the hands of the paranoid and mentally ill – the vast majority of those who purchase handguns today.

Smart guns wouldn’t have prevented the murder of Trayvon Martin or the movie-goer who was killed for sending a text to his young daughter. They wouldn’t have prevented a man from setting a trap and laying in wait to cruelly murder two unarmed teens who broke into his basement. They wouldn’t have prevented the mass murders at Sandy Hook Elementary, at the Aurora movie theater, at Fort Hood, or at Congresswoman Gabby Giffords’ Congress on the Corner meeting.

Certainly preventing the use of a firearm by someone other than its owner is an admirable goal. But it is only a beginning. Those who favor responsible gun reforms should view smart guns as only a first step. The bigger issue is to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill and those with a history of violence; to stop the marketing of candy-colored guns to children; to stop the sale of semi-automatics to gun nuts for use against law enforcement and the government; to stop the sale of sniper rifles and silencers; to stop the development and sale of plastic guns intended to escape detection; and to undo the so-called “carry everywhere” laws that make it legal to carry guns to bars, schools, events – anywhere that doesn’t have full security including metal detectors and gun storage lockers.

The Cliven Bundy armed standoff with the Bureau of Land Management gives us a glimpse of the future of our nation with the current gun laws. Smart guns won’t stop the militia, domestic terrorists and the criminally insane from bullying and killing. The only way to do that is through stricter gun laws, gun buybacks and the end of our nation’s insane love affair with guns.

Pennsylvania School Attack Highlights The Need For Gun Control.

Following the school stabbing incident in Pennsylvania, the nation’s gun lobby is almost certain to draw comparisons to school shootings. They’ll likely claim that guns are no more dangerous than knives or clubs. They’ll point to the number of stabbings and beatings in the US. They’ll likely say that a crazed person with a weapon – any weapon – is dangerous.

There’s only one flaw with those arguments. In the Pennsylvania attack, no one has died. Yes, 21 children and a security guard were cut or stabbed. But only three are still hospitalized, and they are expected to recover. Contrast that with Columbine, Sandy Hook Elementary School and dozens of other school attacks in which attackers armed with semi-automatic guns quickly and efficiently killed numerous victims. Guns, especially semi-automatic guns with extended clips, make killing quicker and easier. That’s why they are the weapons of choice for law enforcement and our military.

Imagine if the Pennsylvania teen had brought a semi-automatic assault weapon to school instead of two knives. How many parents would be planning funerals? How many young lives would have been lost?

Weapons such as knives are up close and personal. The person wielding a knife relies on surprise. The victims have to be within reach. So, unlike guns, they give victims an opportunity to run away. Moreover, it’s much more difficult to attack multiple victims with a knife. Attackers with knives are easier to disarm. And, if first aid is immediately available, the wounds are seldom lethal.

To prevent more Columbines and Sandy Hooks, we need to make access to guns more difficult. We need universal background checks for gun purchases. We need gun registration so we can hold gun owners responsible if the weapons fall into the wrong hands. We need to ban semi-automatics and extended clips. We need to track gun serial numbers. All of this can be done. Following a mass shooting, Australia’s conservative government placed severe restrictions on guns. It bought back millions of guns and destroyed them. As a result, gun deaths in Australia are exceedingly rare.

What makes the US so different that we’re willing to accept the gun deaths of 3,000 children per year?

Guns In The Neighborhood.

I live in a small development near several tourist destinations in Arizona. There’s absolutely nothing remarkable about the neighborhood other than it is primarily populated by retirees from California and snowbirds from New England and the Midwest. The neighborhood has virtually no crime and has never experienced a home invasion. Despite this, I have to assume the majority of my neighbors are gun owners. Arizona, after all, is a gun-friendly state. Many people come here to get their cowboy on. And it seems that our legislature values guns more than people.

If that sounds crazy, I assure you that it’s not as crazy as some of our laws.

In Arizona, you can carry a gun virtually anywhere…in your car, to the shopping mall, to your church, even to the bar. The state has even made it illegal for cities to destroy guns that have been confiscated from felons or used in crimes. The cities are mandated to sell them.

As a result of our gun-crazy culture, Arizona has more than its share of gun hoarders…those who have convinced themselves that the government and/or the UN is coming to take their guns. There is also a large number of so-called “sovereign citizens”…those who refuse to accept the rule of government.

I have no idea how many of my neighbors fit into these categories, but I do know of two. One is a retired electrical engineer who owned a large collection of handguns, shotguns and assault rifles until he got drunk one afternoon and threatened to kill his wife and himself. The sheriff;s deputies confiscated the weapons and the neighbor is now serving time in prison for that and a variety of senseless crimes associated with his drinking. Another arsenal of handguns and assault weapons belongs to a neighbor whose love of high-powered weaponry is exceeded only by his love of alcohol.

How comforting!

Knowing that a few yards away there is a large arsenal in the possession of such an individual does not make me feel more secure. Neither does knowing that there are dozens more who have guns at the ready. These people are exemplified by a neighbor who was convinced to purchase a handgun by one of his gun-loving paranoid friends. He told me the first time he fired it, the slide nearly amputated his thumb. He’s still uncomfortable with it, but that doesn’t prevent him from keeping the loaded weapon on the nightstand next to his bed. Even more disturbing is the fact that he keeps a round in the chamber, which means he is more likely to accidentally shoot himself or a friend than any potential intruder.

Rather than make our neighborhood more secure, all of these guns make it more dangerous; more likely that there will be an accidental shooting; more likely that the guns will be used in a shootout between neighbors than to shoot an intruder. But most suggested changes for gun control would fail to weed out these people. They all passed background checks. They all supposedly took at least one firearm safety class. Yet they are all armed and dangerous to themselves, their families and their neighbors.

These people clearly demonstrate that the only thing that can reduce the number of nincompoops who own guns is to reduce the number of guns. Period.

Worse Than Iraq.

This past Saturday, the United Nations reported that at least 733 Iraqis had been killed and at least 1,229 wounded in January as the result of violence. Worse, the UN said that the numbers did not include Anbar province due to problems verifying the numbers killed. Those numbers are startling and they justifiably made headlines in newspapers throughout the US.

But there was one nation that experienced even more violence last month – the United States of America.

As I noted in a recent post, there are more than 11,000 gun homicides in the US each year. That means that, on average, there are more than 916 gun homicides in the US each month…nearly 200 more than the deaths that occurred last month in Iraq! And, if you include those killed by other means, the US likely experienced more than 1,330 homicides last month…nearly double the number killed by violence in Iraq!

Looking at it another way, the US experiences nearly one-third the number of violent deaths each month as Syria, which is immersed in a cruel civil war. Yet I don’t recall seeing any headlines decrying the violence in the US. I don’t see humanitarian groups running to the aid of those in our most violent neighborhoods. I don’t hear conservative politicians calling for military intervention to help curb our violence.

Are conservative politicians so afraid of the National Rifle Association, that they have become willing to ignore our own violence? Have ordinary citizens become so accustomed to mass murders, gang violence, revenge killings, road rage and domestic violence that we no longer notice it? Or worse, yet, no longer care?